57 Iraqi cops charged with torture

Updated: 2006-11-07 22:23

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that it had brought the first-ever charges of torture against members of the Iraqi police, who are accused of close ties to the Shiite death squads whose daily abductions and killings fuel the sectarian violence convulsing the country.

Iraqis grieve as they wait to collect bodies, victims of sectarian violence, outside Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital Tuesday Nov. 7, 2006.

Authorities reported finding the bodies of a dozen apparent death squad victims floating in the Tigris River south of Baghdad.

Shiite death squads are generally thought to be behind such killings, hundreds of which have been recorded in Baghdad alone since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine in February ignited the explosion of sectarian revenge killings.

Some officers on the Shiite-dominated police force are accused of abetting the violence by allowing the gunmen to violate curfews and pass through checkpoints.

Torture is considered widespread among the poorly trained police force, which has suffered heavy losses at the hands of Sunni insurgents, Shiite militiamen and criminal gangs.

Such concerns were underscored by the discovery of a police torture chamber in Baghdad last year, and by the apparent complicity of police in a mass kidnapping of Sunni workers that prompted authorities to take an entire police brigade out of service for retraining.

The torture that led to the charges described Tuesday took place at a prison in eastern Baghdad called Site No. 4, the Interior Ministry said.

The police charged and removed from their job include a general, 19 officers, 20 noncommissioned officers and 17 patrolmen or civilian employees.

Their names were being withheld, but ministry spokesman Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf said the general had received administrative punishment and would face criminal charges.

Khalaf declined to give details about specific abuses or what sentences the policemen could receive if found guilty.

"All of these people will stand trial and the court will decide their fate," Khalaf said.

Meanwhile, a subdued Saddam Hussein returned to court for his genocide trial, two days after being sentenced to hang for war crimes in the 1980s killings of 148 people in the town of Dujail.

Traffic was back on the streets of Baghdad after the lifting of a round-the-clock curfew that was largely successful in heading off sectarian violence that was feared after the verdict.

Saddam's trial in connection with the deaths of 180,000 Kurds, most of them civilians, in the 1987-88 crackdown called Operation Anfal, will continue while an appeal in the Dujail case is under way.

The U.S. military said a Baghdad-based soldier was killed by a roadside bomb on Monday, bringing the death toll among U.S. troops this month to 19. A British soldier was killed in an attack Monday on a base in the southern city of Basra, the first British casualty this month.

The U.S. military said this month's casualties included two lieutenant colonels, among the highest ranking soldiers to die in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

Lt. Col. Eric J. Kruger, 40, was killed Thursday by a roadside bomb along with Lt. Col. Paul J. Finken, 40, and Staff Sgt. Joseph A. Gage, 28. All three men were riding in a Humvee in eastern Baghdad.

Fighting was also reported between gunmen and U.S. soldiers in the western city of Ramadi, a center of pro-Saddam sentiment among the former Sunni ruling class. Police and the military said they had no word on casualties.

The 12 bodies of the unidentified torture victims were found floating in the Tigris River in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, Police Lt. Mohammed al-Shamari said. All had been blindfolded and bound at the wrists and ankles, before being shot in the head and chest.

Officials say they plan to eventually retrain all 26 national police battalions - the Interior Ministry's paramilitary units - and weed out those suspected of ties to sectarian militias and criminal gangs.

Iraq's main Sunni political party issued a statement accusing "criminal militias" of being behind the torching of two Sunni mosques in western Baghdad on Sunday.

"We demand the government at least issue a statement condemning such crimes, as it does when other places are attacked," the Iraqi Islamic Party said.

"The government should be the government of all Iraqis, regardless of their religion or sect," the statement said. It said the mosques had never been used to store weapons or shelter criminals or insurgents.

The government on Monday reached out to disaffected Sunnis in hopes of enticing them away from the insurgency, which has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and is responsible for the vast majority of U.S. casualties. The Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification has prepared a draft law that could see thousands of members of Baath party reinstated in their jobs, the commission's head told The Associated Press.

A 24-point national reconciliation plan that was announced in June by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, in which he called for reviewing the de-Baathification program, al-Lami said.

The United States dissolved and banned the Baath party in May 2003, a month after toppling Saddam. The U.S. later softened its stance, inviting former high-level officers from the disbanded military to join the security forces.

The former top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, also allowed thousands of teachers who were Baathists to return to work. He conceived of the so-called de-Baathification effort but later found it had gutted key ministries and the military.

About 1.5 million of Iraq's 27 million people belonged to the Baath party - formally known as the Baath Arab Socialist Party - when Saddam was ousted. Most said they joined for professional, not ideological, reasons.

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